Sunday, May 27, 2012
Fairest Lord Jesus -- Anonymous
Nature lover, that’s who wrote “Fairest Lord Jesus” as early as the 1100s (12th Century). The composer may have been on a journey, perhaps even as he and his compatriots were being forced out of their homeland. Pausing to recognize His creation – perhaps that’s how this person or group managed to maintain some composure, if they indeed were in troubling circumstances. They sang the song in their native German tongue, even though they were separated from their native land. What is one’s native tongue and native land, after all?
Various accounts propose different conditions prevailed when “Fairest Lord Jesus” was first sung by Christians. Was the song on German crusaders’ lips as they travelled toward the Savior’s homeland in the 12th Century? One could imagine such a group doing so, as they carried out their mission to make the Savior “lord of the nations”, as one verse of the song intones. The beauty of nature was obviously impressed upon the composer/s, maybe as they spent so much time in it, perhaps as travelers, either as Crusaders, or maybe as followers of Jan Hus up to five centuries later. Some Bohemian Hussites wound up in Silesia in central Europe (see first map of the region produced in 16th Century), as they tried to escape persecution. Look at some pictures of the region, and you might think this people’s forced relocation was in one way an opportunity to observe His creation. Think of the green meadows and forests, perhaps in springtime, with all the glory of rejuvenated plant life to witness. It might cause one to rejoice, even one with a ‘woeful heart’, as one verse confesses. So, the originator was observing something magnificent, even while feeling crushed in his spirit over some difficulty. He could see the night sky, too, reminding him of the Creator’s handiwork beyond this earth. If I struggle, does that really matter, if He is about me? That seems to be what the songwriter was saying, a message that still rang true for another guy at least two centuries later and an ocean apart from its German origin. His name was Joseph August Seiss.
Seiss was an American, but connected to the Old World by his faith roots. His ancestry was Moravian, and he practiced his Christian faith as a Lutheran, rooted in Germany. It’s not surprising that he would therefore feel drawn to “Fairest Lord Jesus”, perhaps first sung by one or more of his distant relatives. He was a native American, but maybe he’d say he had truly found something universal across the ocean in another land, and centuries removed from his own time. Seiss translated Schönster Herr Jesu into Fairest Lord Jesus for us English-speakers in 1873, but he apparently retained the original Silesian folk tune (known as Saint Elizabeth) associated with its words to synergize an affecting praise-hymn.What was it in the Silesian countryside that Christians saw that mingled with their heart-level faith? We’ll probably never really know all the details, this side of heaven. …one more story, waiting to be told. I plan on hearing more about it, how about you?
Information on the song was obtained from the books “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990; “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1982; and “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.
See this link for the song’s 4 or 5 or 6 verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/f/a/l/faljesus.htm
See this link for information on the Hussites, the possible originators of the hymn: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hussite
See also for information on hymn’s history: http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/PsH/461